1. 22
  1.  

  2. 12

    I’m impressed by the thoughtful response the organizers took in this case. The decision to come up with a policy, state it transparently, and (at least initially) hold to it despite discomfort is admirable.

    1. 3

      And it looks like we have our first act of withdrawl over this decision

      The program committee feel that we cannot possibly organize a workshop under the umbrella of a conference that values the free expression of racist and fascist views over the physical and emotional safety of its attendees and speakers. Our first priority is to act in solidarity with the many people who have been negatively affected by this decision.

      I wasn’t going to attend in any event, but it does seem rather a waste to throw away a known good on the basis of a remote evil. It’s great publicity for a biased summary of a decision, sure, but doesn’t this negatively impact the folks that could’ve learned something there?

      1. [Comment removed by author]

        1. 6

          Hey. I’m really sorry that we cancelled PrlConf and that you were looking forward to it—We are devastated; all of us worked so hard to put together an event that would be fun, educational and inspiring, both for our speakers and for our attendees. However, we had no other option: I could not in good conscience participate in LambdaConf anymore, and most of the PrlConf speakers were no longer going to attend—even if we had not cancelled the event, the event would not have happened in the same sense as it would have under different circumstances. I am so sad that it turned out this way, and I will try to do a better job next year in finding a venue that fits with our values. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions (jon[at]jonmsterling[dot]com), and I am happy to discuss it with you. Again, please accept our apologies for this awful turn of events.

          And if you have made nonrefundable travel arrangements in order to attend PrlConf, also please contact me and I will try to help.

          1. 4

            You do realize that you’ve done more tangible harm to the people who would’ve gone to your event than might’ve been suffered otherwise, right?

            Could you explain your reasoning here in-depth a little?

            1. 3

              Would you prefer that we had put on PrlConf without any speakers? I am not sure what you’re asking me to have done…

              1. 3

                Let me say, as one of the people who think Lambda made the right decision, that I also think the decision to withdraw may have been the right call for you. You kinda threw the LC folks under the bus with your message imo, but I would never expect people to attend a conference they didn’t want to.

                1. 5

                  John De Goes is actually my employer, and we had discussed this at length prior to our announcement. John is also someone I consider a good and respected friend.

                2. 2

                  Ah, so if I understand your position, it was that the speakers you were relying on were going to boycott anyways?

                  That does force your hand somewhat, I suppose.

                  EDIT: Am with tedu on this. I disagree with your professed reason, but you can hardly be expected to round up your speakers at gunpoint and for them to present!

            2. 0

              they might as well have announced they were cancelling it because their astrologer suggested it was in inauspicious time for a conference.

              That’s a strawman on a slippery slope.

          2. 6

            This is a really eloquent and long-winded way of justifying discrimination. I’m disappointed, but no surprised.

            1. 5

              Discrimination for/against whom?

              1. 5

                The speaker in question is Mencius Moldbug, started the “Neoreactionary” political movement. Also created Urbit. He’s stated on his blog that genetics makes certain races better suited to slavery than other races, and has a talk on YouTube describing how to “reboot” the government to make it more like Silicon Valley.

                By inviting Moldbug, and indeed by creating a policy to justify inviting him, they are indirectly supporting his racist ideals. By claiming that allowing him to speak is “inclusive” and in the name of “diversity” they are misunderstanding the point of diversity and inclusion. You can’t accept all points of view when one point of view negates another’s humanity.

                1. 7

                  Actually, the speaker is Curtis. His decision to use a pen name when writing about topics unrelated to programming was deliberate. He’s not speaking at Lambda about negating humanity.

                  1. 7

                    Yes I know it’s a pen name, and it doesn’t matter. He still publicly holds these political views and LambdaConf still classified it as a “belief system” worthy of “inclusion” and “diversity”.

                    Here’s a good thought experiment that @aphyr mentioned in a tweet recently. Pretend you are a Black person attending a programming conference and the keynote speaker has written that you are genetically best suited to being a slave. How would that make you feel? Even if the entire conference is about only programming, would you still want to attend and be around this person?

                    1. 9

                      I think it is entirely possible to enjoy, learn from, and even admire the intellectual works of somebody who we might otherwise find disgusting. If you really care to, I’d be happy to supply several examples of such pairings.

                      Additionally, I think it is somewhat gauche to ask folks to pretend to be a minority in a group they are not a member of when analyzing policy questions: if they agree with you, you will ignore the inaccuracies of their reasoning (because they can probably never completely understand the plight of that group), and if they disagree with you, you will claim that they do so because they are not fully emulating that group. The “pretend you are a member of $group” for policy questions, especially heated ones such as these, is pretty poor for actually exploring a topic–better still to simply poll the representatives of such groups.

                      1. 10

                        We should ban a speaker based not on what they might say to the audience, but what they might think about the audience? I disagree.

                        How many people at the urbit talk would even know about moldbug without the current ruckus? I certainly wouldn’t. Is the audience going to be uncomfortable because of what Curtis says or because of what people say about Curtis?

                        1. 6

                          On the other hand, should we ever boycott people or organizations, and if so, in what cases is this tactic appropriate? E.g., would you tolerate a speaker who actually owns slaves, as long as you could guarantee that he wouldn’t attempt to catch new slaves from among the audience?

                          1. 5

                            I think that’s a question that individuals need to make for themselves, and one I intensely dislike when others make it for me. If a speaker is unwelcome, let them present to an empty room then turn them away the next year on account of poor turnout. But the attendees should be given the opportunity to make this choice, instead of the organizers making it for them.

                            1. 4

                              Does that mean a conference has no moral responsibility for unfortunate events it could reasonably have predicted, though?

                              1. 4

                                Certainly the organizers should consider what will or may happen at the event. But as per other thread, I would like some clarification as to what unfortunate events people are predicting. What conduct are we seeking to prevent?

                              2. 3

                                Boycott movements would disagree with you. The idea behind lobbying shops to drop produce from certain countries is that most people don’t know about what’s happening in Horriblistan or don’t look at the country of origin of every product they buy, so individual boycotting would not be as effective. As you say, “how many people […] would even know about moldbug?”.

                                1. 4

                                  And I would disagree with them. If you want to make a website or documentary explaining the truth about Nike, do that. But don’t apply coercive pressure to the stores I shop at. I have free will, too, remember.

                                  1. 3

                                    But everyone has free will. Your local shoe store is free to decide not to carry Nike or Atheist Shoes for whatever reason, activist groups are free to try to convince the owners of the store (individuals!) to drop the heathen shoes, and you’re free to order them from the company’s web site or an online retailer.

                                    1. 4

                                      Isn’t the premise of the boycott that I’m not in fact capable of deciding? “We need to remove these shoes from the store because otherwise poor dumb Teddy might purchase them.” I can’t be trusted with this decision, so better people than me need to make it.

                                      I’m not saying nobody should be allowed to boycott; I’m explaining why I don’t like it.

                                      1. 4

                                        Likewise, I’m not saying your opinion is wrong. (Nor am I speaking for boycott groups.)

                                        The premise may also be, “poor Teddy is too busy with crypto to learn about our fringe pet issue, or doesn’t care enough to check each product he buys, and although we can’t stop those who really want to buy from Vendor X (until we convince his government to sanction it), we can lower the chance that those who don’t care either way will”.

                                        1. 1

                                          :)

                                      2. 2

                                        Strictly speaking, if the stores have shareholders to answer to, I believe that they would need to justify dropping an otherwise profitable product or voluntarily putting themselves at a disadvantage in the market.

                                        1. 3

                                          “This group is hanging outside our shop every week for months now, and they seem to be quite effective: sales overall dropped by 10%, and of that product by 60%.”

                                2. 3

                                  It’s an impossible hypothetical. You can’t guarantee such a thing. You can guarantee there’d be an immediate security response, but you can’t guarantee there wouldn’t be an attempt.

                                  In the closest real analogues to this situation, those responses are usually very lacking, and prospective attendees would be justified in not trusting assurances.

                                  1. 3

                                    It’s an impossible hypothetical.

                                    Possibly. But boycotting is not necessarily about immediate consequences. Say you’re in 1980s and are against South African apartheid. You’re reasonably sure that nobody will attempt to segregate races at your conference held in the USA. Would you invite a speaker from South Africa who strongly supports and directly benefits from the apartheid?

                                    1. 6

                                      Boycotts can be useful (and I’ve participated in them!). But they’re most useful as a form of political activity, ideally one component of an ongoing political movement, not a personal expression of ideology. The South African boycotts are a good example, but to me illustrate a different point. The boycott wasn’t directed against South African speakers who personally supported apartheid, but against all South African speakers, sportspeople, etc., regardless of political views. It was a political tactic aiming to isolate the country/regime by cutting them off from international venues and institutions. Whether an individual South African was reactionary or progressive wasn’t the point; the boycott wasn’t an exercise in judging individual speakers' ethics. The BDS movement aiming to put pressure on Israel has a similar approach.

                                      But those movements are directed against powerful, institutionalized enemies. Is building movements against random fringe sects useful? Were I a conservative, I could see boycotting Cuban speakers during the cold war. But say the year is 2016, you’re still strongly anticommunist (maybe your parents were killed in some Stalinist purge), and you find out that a tech conference you’re going to has a speaker who is also, on the side, a member of a tiny communist group (the International Socialist Organization, say). Would you boycott the conference because of anticommunism? That would come off to me as weird/petty— boycotting Cuba I would disagree with but can understand as an actual political tactic, but boycotting individual ISO members starts to get into the kind of politics that isn’t really politics anymore, because it involves inside baseball among tiny ineffective political sects. Aren’t the neoreactionaries roughly a right-wing equivalent of “tiny Trotskyist sect”? Or have I misjudged their size/influence?

                                      1. 4

                                        Whether an individual South African was reactionary or progressive wasn’t the point; the boycott wasn’t an exercise in judging individual speakers' ethics. The BDS movement aiming to put pressure on Israel has a similar approach.

                                        BDS actually decided to use a different approach: they boycott entities they deem complicit, and even being a Jewish Israeli artist receiving funding from Israeli government is not enough to warrant being boycotted. I have no idea whether this tactic is more or less effective, but here you go.

                                        Aren’t the neoreactionaries roughly a right-wing equivalent of “tiny Trotskyist sect”?

                                        I don’t really know, and your point about this boycott being petty may well be valid. I personally consider endorsement of slavery to be beyond the pale, and people who advocate it to be, to borrow a concept from modern Russian language, “non-handshakeable” (someone you wouldn’t shake hands with), but I’m not sure whether I’d go as far as to boycott LambdaConf or stop at bitching about it to every attendee I’d talk to. My main point here is that safety of participants is not the only valid reason to disinvite a speaker.

                                      2. 3

                                        Personally, no. Definitely not. You raise a good point that it could be viewed as a boycott - the lens of codes of conduct isn’t the only one applicable here.

                                        1. 2

                                          Thanks!

                                        2. 4

                                          Yes, if they have something useful to say and stay on-topic.

                                          For the same reason, I would invite someone with HIV to speak or even cook at the same event. Or somebody who is homosexual or staunch communist or what have you. Or who believes in the lizard men.

                                          You know, because I’m not going to give in to fear.

                                          And frankly, if people are so sensitive to the unrelated ideas and personal lives of others that they wilt in the mere presence of those folks, they do not deserve to be treated as adults.

                                          1. 3

                                            Boycotts are not about fear or being sensitive around someone, they’re about putting pressure on someone.

                                            1. 1

                                              For clarification, the sensitivity remark was in regards to would-be boycotters doing so out of being overly sensitive.

                                    2. 6

                                      The question should actually be about building trust and inclusion in a community. When you include people that promote ideals that dehumanize others, is that truly “inclusion” and “diversity”? Is that promoting trust in the community?

                                      1. 10

                                        I think the important framing here is that LambdaConf is a community, which is to say it’s a group of people. If it were possible to exchange technical ideas without there being human participants in that, then safety and trust wouldn’t matter. I think there’s a widespread notion that that separation is possible, which… it probably looks like it is, for people who’ve never left a place because they weren’t safe there.

                                        And, concretely, this does send a message about what’s accepted and what isn’t, and that’s going to attract people of a similar mind to attend the conference, which changes its tone over time in a way that’s perhaps less visible than those who make the opposite decision to stop attending.

                                        I don’t believe that, realistically, LambdaConf or anybody else has the ability to hold the line of “don’t discuss politics without consent”. Politics is the number one topic in this world where discussion without consent is frequently done with full awareness of it being a power play, and that everybody will be too intimidated to try to stop it. They have made that choice of where to stand quite carefully and deliberately, and I do wish them luck with it. This would be a better world if it were possible.

                                        1. 4

                                          No disagreement. The question I have is whether the calls to exclude this individual are based on a belief that he will seek to create an unsafe environment at this conference or is it extrajudicial punishment for actions taken elsewhere? The burden of proof for “precrime” should be pretty high. Has he attended other conferences and what trouble ensued? That seems far more relevant than some blog postings.

                                          1. 1

                                            Not having followed his actions, I can’t speak to that. I agree that it’s a key question.

                                        2. 7

                                          Unless he’s promoting urbit as some sort of operating system for the master race, none of that seems relevant. Did the program committee select him as a speaker because of his ideals? No, no more than they selected the trump supporter for their beliefs.

                                          1. 3

                                            When you include people that promote ideals that dehumanize others, is that truly “inclusion” and “diversity”?

                                            How would you square that complaint with, say, a conference on social games and behavior-shaping for increasing revenue?

                                            Just because people espouse beliefs that dehumanize others doesn’t automatically mean they don’t have anything useful to say or that they aren’t good people. In some professions, in fact, it is even desirable to dehumanize folks because that makes doing a job easier or possible.

                                            1. 1

                                              In some professions, in fact, it is even desirable to dehumanize folks because that makes doing a job easier or possible.

                                              What examples would you provide in which one dehumanizing others is a good person? The primary example I can think of is the military. They dehumanize the enemy, but aren’t individually bad people. Are there others that you could think of?

                                              1. 8

                                                Sure. In engineering, especially at scale, some number of defects is to be expected. In the case of something like cars, there comes a point where additional safety is not worth the cost to the consumer, and so additional work or things like recalls are not performed. People hop up and down occasionally when this happens, but on the balance the world is better off for having more cars (at least until you look at environmental effects).

                                                Paramedics and first-responders often develop (read any online discussions by such folks) a callousness towards the people they service. To a degree, this seems to be done to deal with the continuous exposure to stress and truly horrible shit on the job–having morbidly obese people’s diabetic feet popping off during transport, having to deal with severe injuries and not freak out that the person’s face has been shot in half, and so forth.

                                                Merchants benefit from dehumanization: they can accept coin at the grocery store without dragging in all the baggage of “Hey, this person is spending money on food that can hurt them”, “Hey, this person is spending money on cigarettes instead of baby food”, “Hey, this person is buying their kid a story book instead of a Bible or textbook”. They can skip the whole problem of “Hey, you gave Jane a discount on her coffee, why not me?” asked by customers that aren’t aware of the shared history of Jane and the merchant.

                                                Even the justice system (theoretically) benefits from dehumanization: the individual details of a person’s life are hard to account for on the best of days, and in determining punishment or compensation for breaking or following laws it is downright impossible to do so fairly at the macro level without some common dehumanizing abstraction of the citizenry.

                                                In general, the cries of “dehumanization” tend to ignore all of the positive benefits that are available once we stop paying attention to all the weird convoluted stuff that makes up a person and instead focus on the relevant factors at hand.

                                                And yeah, it can lead to bad stuff in as many cases as it leads to good stuff, but so can the alternative.

                                                1. 4

                                                  The engineers lament in the New Yorker was a good take on automotive recalls and fault tolerances.

                                                  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/04/the-engineers-lament

                                                  1. 1

                                                    Interesting article, thanks!

                                    3. 1

                                      Okay, but that doesn’t make the LambdaConf organizers’ decision justify discrimination.

                                3. 3

                                  All this controversy makes me upset that Urbit and Moldbug came from the same person. I rather like the ideas behind Urbit.

                                  1. 10

                                    Luckily, using only the powers of maturity and adulthood, we can all separate the person from the work!

                                    We need never throw the intellectual baby out with the bathwater.

                                    1. 1

                                      We would never allow a violent criminal to attend LambdaConf.

                                      So they don’t allow people who served in the military and were engaged in active combat, killing people violently?

                                      In light of this, we decided to reach out to our minority group speakers, because, while everyone in the world would have an opinion on this matter, we believed the opinion of those vastly underrepresented in tech should carry more weight.

                                      That is highly illogical. Unless what they really want is to hide behind people that can’t be criticized easily.

                                      If the staff or a committee appointed by the staff believes that attendees might reasonably feel physically unsafe if in the presence of someone, then we will reserve the right to ban the person from the conference.

                                      All that talk about behavior over belief and now they want to ban people based on other people’s subjective feelings?

                                      If the staff or a committee appointed by the staff believes that a person is untrustworthy, and will not uphold the pledge of conduct, then we will reserve the right to ban the person from the conference.

                                      Can’t have a document without the “we’ll ban whomever we want” clause, can we? Otherwise, how are we going to decline responsibility afterwards? Sorry, it’s in the written rules, nothing personal!

                                      will create an environment that is physically safe

                                      A space of safety, one might say.

                                      That in consideration of the professional nature of this event, I will refrain from discussing potentially offensive and divisive topics unrelated to the topic of programming (specifically religion, morality and politics); except in the company of willing participants to such conversations, and even then, only in a manner consistent with the pledge;

                                      Great! Why would any adult want to discuss anything other than functional programming at such a diverse technical conference? Better keep the rascals in check, though, with good ol' self-censorship. You never know when one might get too excited exchanging non-technical ideas, and excitement might scare some people who will no longer feel safe in their nice little echo chambers.

                                      Document and refine policies that detail how the staff will respond to a report of a pledge violation;

                                      Have fun mimicking law enforcement.

                                      StrangeLoop came to a different conclusion, but one that is no less right for them

                                      Ah, the beauty of ethical relativism!

                                      I would never dream of sharing my private ethical system or political stances at work

                                      Fear is the mind-killer.

                                      I believe we can all agree to act as professional adults in a professional environment […]

                                      While being treated like children?

                                      please do tell me what you think of the artwork!

                                      Isn’t this verboten because it’s out of the scope of functional programming. I no longer feel safe. What if somebody asks me something I don’t know about negative space? Let’s ban this guy! Better safe than uncomfortable…

                                      P.S.: the “controversial” speaker is Curtis Yarvin: http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/06/05/strange-loop-tech-conference-bans-software-engineer-over-political-views/

                                      1. 6

                                        The substance of the objections and criticisms you raise here is not worth the downvoting you seem to be receiving; the presentation, though, is.

                                        Usenet-style quote-and-reply tends to clutter up and annoy, and so a summarized list of points you’d like to make may serve you better in the future.

                                        1. 4

                                          Usenet-style quote-and-reply tends to clutter up and annoy

                                          I disagree. It’s the best way to address specific points without requiring that the reader references two texts back and forth, or worse - trying to retell the original points and risk contaminating them with your own opinion.

                                          This medium allows us to easily insert and address passages of interest, so why not take advantage of it?